Tag: "rural"

Posted August 2, 2012 by christopher

Of all the broadband stimulus projects, the Lake County FTTH network in Minnesota has been one of the most embattled in the nation (possibly only behind AT&T's attacks on South Carolina projects).

Mediacom has pulled out all the stops, including filing complaints with the Inspector General that included dubious allegations at best and then complaining after the Inspector General investigated and found nothing worth following up on.

What we have here is a company that wants to block a project that will deliver essential infrastructure to thousands of people who are presently lacking access. Why? Because part of that project will overlap with an outdated and overpriced Mediacom cable network that prefers its subscribers to have no choice in providers.

Recall that this is a part of the nation where a single fiber cut previously cut off all communications for 12 hours. Police could not run plates, no business could call outside the North Shore or run credit cards, ATMs were useless, 9-11 ceased functioning, and US Customs and Border Protection needed to use Canadian communications.

Minnesota Public Radio ran a solid article that explained the need for real broadband up there. It starts by talking about a local business, Granite Gear, that has suffered from the lack of proper access. (The rest of the quotes in this article come from that article.)

"The upload speeds that we have available to us here, are such that our art director frequently comes in at night and does that, when no one else is tying up the Internet bandwidth," Johnson said.

To help businesses like Granite Gear and solve the internet woes of northeast Minnesota residents, Lake County began stringing fiber Tuesday in Two Harbors, which is on Lake Superior's North Shore....

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Posted July 26, 2012 by lgonzalez

Orangeburg County, South Carolina, received $18.65 million in broadband stimulus funds for high-speed broadband (which we previously noted). Unfortunately, AT&T and its friends at ALEC have since pushed through a state law to limit local authority in building networks.

According to the Broadband Adoption Map from the Investigative Reporting Workshop of the American University School of Communication, Orangeburg County has a broadband adoption rate of 20-40% as compared to the national rate of 60%.

Not only has AT&T refused to invest in modern networks in much of South Carolina, it is not even bothering to accept a federal subsidy that would underwrite some of that cost. Which is actually good for the rest of us, because subsidizing any AT&T activities is a very poor use of taxpayer dollars.

But Orangeburg is moving forward on its own. The Orangeburg County Council approved a $2.4 million contract with Edwards Telecommunications to complete the third phase of their project. This phase alone will use 171 miles of fiber and add 902 households to the network. Two more phases are scheduled before the entire project is complete.

According to a Gene Zaleski Times and Democrat article:

Seventy-five percent of the project will be paid for with a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service grant and the remaining 25 percent will be paid for with proceeds from the Orangeburg County capital project sales tax.

In 2010, after receiving the award, the County expressed their optimism in a Phil Sarta article in the Times Democrat:

[County Administrator Bill] Clark said broadband capability will be extended to 3,700-3,800 households and roughly 90 businesses. The project area includes...

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Posted July 23, 2012 by lgonzalez

Bonners Ferry, with around 2,500 residents in Northern Idaho, realized three years ago that fiber would only find their community if they installed it themselves.

“We are a little isolated up here…We don’t have the density that would attract this kind of thing.”

Mike Sloan, Bonners Ferry Economic Development Council Director, went on to describe the situation in a recent Bonners Ferry Herald article. Even though some BTOP and BIP federal stimulus project awards came to Idaho, none of them made it to Bonners Ferry. Nevertheless, Sloan and other community leaders knew the infrastructure would be crucial to the economic well-being of the region. The project has been in the works for the past three years. Sloan went on to tell reporter Cori Flowers:

Sloan said fiber optic isn’t just a means for easier internet surfing, it’s absolutely essential to economic progress. “Any area that doesn’t have this is at a distinct disadvantage,” Sloan said. “If we ever want to attract businesses to our area, we need this.”

In order to fund the build-out, Bonners Ferry plans to create a revenue bond, with anticipated revenue from the network designated to repay the bond. With the participation of several other area regional communities, leaders are optimistic. The network will travel along electrical lines and will end at the Canadian border.

The project, still in its planning phase, will be reviewed by the Panhandle Area Council, the City of Bonners Ferry, and municipal legal counsel before moving forward.

Posted July 16, 2012 by lgonzalez

South Carolina's H3508 has passed the legislature, been signed by Governor Nikki R. Haley, and has revoked local authority to build the broadband networks they need to create new jobs. Last week, we noted some of the coverage about the bill.

After reviewing the language of the bill, we are astonished at how far the Governor and the South Carolina Legislature have gone to protect AT&T's monopoly, to the detriment of the many businesses and citizens who desperately need better access to the Internet -- whether to be more productive, competitive, or just take advantage of educational opportunities.

South Carolina is near the bottom of adoption rate in the U.S. and has a higher than average number of residents living below the poverty line. Communities with fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet are seeing new jobs. Those stuck on slow DSL are watching jobs wither away.

We continue to be amazed at state legislatures that are prioritizing laws to make it harder to expand broadband rather than easier. The only explanation is the vast amounts of money big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable spend in campaign contributions.

This bill is designed to prevent local governments from building next-generation networks, even when the private sector has refused to invest. It may also put an end to projects already in the works (even those that have received BTOP or BIP funding).

H3508 is not an outright ban against municipal networks, but it might as well be. South Carolina had already discouraged community broadband networks in Article 23, Chapter 9, Title 58 of its 1976 Code. This bill ramps up the unfavorable...

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Posted July 9, 2012 by christopher

A new book from Michael J Sandel asks, "What Isn't for Sale?" At least, that was the title of his article in the April Atlantic Monthly. The book is actually titled What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and you can find it at your local bookstore.

Broadband policy often deals with the term "market." Given the strong natural-monopoly characteristics of broadband networks, we generally make two points.

1) The private sector will not create a competitive market for Internet services absent smart government policies. Private companies consolidate, gain scale advantages, and crush the competition absent at least strong antitrust policies.

2) We can have a market for broadband services if we separate the physical infrastructure from the services. In this scenario, a network owner would not be allowed to offer services directly to end users. Independent service providers would use the network (under equal terms) to offer services to businesses and residents. This is the wholesale-only model (most associated with UTOPIA) and the closest examples in other infrastructure is the streets or airports. However, federal policymakers are too beholden to big corporate interests to pursue these policies; if a community wants an open access broadband market, it has to build its own network.

Nevertheless, Sandel's discussion of markets and the insistence of some that markets can solve everything struck a cord with me. I'm a big believer in functioning markets -- which is why we work so hard to help communities that are stuck with only one or two distant corporations controlling all the broadband infrastructure. The refusal of big carriers to invest in communities skews many of the markets within those communities.

So we are careful when we talk about markets. Given present technology, both wired and wireless, it is foolish to believe markets alone can solve our broadband problem. Which is what brings me back to Sandel's article in the Atlanic:

The great missing debate in contemporary politics is about the role and reach of markets. Do we want a market economy, or a market society? What role should markets play in public life and personal relations? How can we decide...

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Posted June 26, 2012 by christopher

In our second podcast, we have interviewed Monica Webb with the Wired West Initiative in rural western Massachusetts. Like our first podcast, this should be an excellent resource for those who are still in the early stages of community broadband and seeking ideas or inspiration.

We continue to be interested in your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is fifteen minutes long and can be played below on this page or you can subscribe via iTunes or via a different tool using this feed. You can download the Mp3 file directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music.

Posted June 20, 2012 by christopher

We have just released a paper revealing how Martin County saved millions of dollars by building its own fiber optic network to link schools and county facilities rather than leasing lines from Comcast.

The report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network, reveals how Martin County transformed the threat of a near ten-fold cost increase for its telecom budget into cost savings and new opportunities for economic growth.

Download the Florida Fiber Report here.

“Martin County is a model example of how local governments can cut costs, increase efficiencies, and spur economic development,” according to Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “Local governments will need broadband networks in 10, 15, 30 years – they should consider owning the asset rather than leasing indefinitely.”

ILSR Broadband Researcher Lisa Conzalez and Christopher Mitchell authored the report.

The new report highlights challenges the County faced, creative tactics used to reduce the cost of the investment, financial details on the incredible cost savings from the network, and how the new connections are already being used.

Though the County is not planning on offering services directly to residents or businesses over the network, the network has already allowed a local Internet Service Provider to expand its territory and offer some choices to people and businesses previously stuck only with AT&T and Comcast. Additionally, the network is leasing dark fiber to some entities.

Florida law makes it difficult for the community to offer services to residents and businesses by imposing additional regulations on public providers that are not imposed on massive companies like AT&T and Comcast.

If you want to stay current with stories like this, you can subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

Posted June 20, 2012 by christopher

Yesterday, we released our first podcast - a short discussion with Linda Kramer of the Sibley-Renville Fiber project in rural Minnesota.

When I happened across their Facebook page this morning, I found this perfect example of why the project is necessary (and they gave us permission to reprint it):

One of my friends moved from Fairfax to Gibbon two weeks ago. Her existing provider won't hook up service to her new home until June 29. This means nearly four weeks without basic telephone service for her family (and no phone at all while her husband has his work cell phone with him during business hours).

Once she gets the service hooked up, she needs to address a billing problem, as the amount she's being billed by this company is not the same as what she was promised when she signed the contract.

Excellent local customer service is one of the things many people are looking forward to with RS Fiber. Is this important to you?

Most of us in urban areas really hate our cable providers because of the poor service they provide. But at least they are relatively timely in the terrible service they offer -- unlike in rural areas where telco technicians may be responsible for covering many hundreds of square miles.

Hesitant though I am to promote anything Facebook-related, the people in Sibley have done a tremendous job of using Facebook to organize people and share stories about why their community-owned network is so important. If you are trying to organize a community for better broadband, take some notes.

Posted June 19, 2012 by christopher

In our excitement to produce this podcast, we forgot to credit Fit and the Conniptions for the intro/outro music. Much thanks for releasing their music under a creative commons license that allows us to use it for this purpose. If you like their sound, buy an album!

We have decided to start a podcast- a recurring audio program that you can listen to on your smartphone, iPod, computer, this web page, etc. We are calling it Community Broadband Bits and our plan is to offer short (10-15 minute) interviews with people doing interesting things to encourage community broadband networks.

As this is our first attempt at such a show, we hope you will send feedback and suggestions. Eventually, we will get on a schedule, likely releasing every other week for the first few months.

To subscribe with iTunes, click here. You can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

If you simply want the audio feed for the show, it is http://feeds.feedburner.com/BroadbandBits

For our first show, we interviewed Linda Kramer with the Marketing Committee of the Sibley-Renville Fiber Project in rural Minnesota's Sibley County. In this ten minute interview, we discuss the need and demand for broadband in rural areas, as well as how the marketing committee has educated residents and demonstrated support for a County-owned fiber network.

Posted June 8, 2012 by lgonzalez

Mount Rogers, Virginia, has the distinction of being the highest elevation in the state. Located in Grayson County, the town is in the southeastern southwestern part of the state, high in the Appalachian Mountains. Needless to say, the region is challenged geographically when it comes to getting their residents and businesses connected to the Internet. Nearby communities include the Town of Galax and Carroll County. A large portion of the area was unserved or undeserved.

Growing out of these three entities and the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority (BRCEDA), the Wired Road Authority is expanding access for local business and residents, many of whom are still on dial-up. A recently completed phase involved renovation of Grant's 100 year old Grange Hall, a radio tower, a fiber link from the tower to the Garnge Hall, and a new computer lab. The second phase of the project will bring FTTH connections to 100 homes in Grant.

Scarlett McGrady, Director of the Grant Community Computing Center, tells us that the Wired Road Authority owns the network and that customers purchase services from private sector providers on the open access network. Right now, Internet and VoIP is available with plans for HD Television, telehealth services, security services, and backup services.

Funding for the project comes from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification Commission, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Carroll County Public Schools, the  Crossroads Institute, and the governments of Carroll County, Grayson County and the City of Galax.

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